Akron, OH — As Retief Goosen departed the par-3 seventh green with a birdie, he could not help but remark to playing-partner and first-round leader Steve Stricker.
“Even when I birdie, I can’t seem to catch up to you,” Goosen replied back.
An hour later, Goosen was in the lead and had a run of seven consecutive one putts with Stricker the one playing catch up.
Goosen matched his career-low round firing an 8-under par 62, leading Stricker and Brandt Jobe by three strokes halfway through the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.
“It’s a golf course that, you know, I’ve had some good rounds and I’ve also had lots of bad rounds,” he said. “It’s that kind of course. If you’re a little bit off your game, you know, you could be on the fairway behind a tree. So it’s a course that can get the best of you very quickly and not really playing all that bad. Today was nice. I drove the ball nicely, got a few breaks here and there, but the putter was hot and I holed a lot of putts.”
Those walking with Goosen or following the round on Golf Channel may have thought that his eagle on the par-5 second hole may have been a turning point, but instead the South African referenced the one hole he played in the morning resulted in a birdie, which provided a good mentality heading into his afternoon round.
Goosen, who last month was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame tied the tournament record with his 62, matching Olin Browne (2012) and Fred Couples (2013), both of whom set the mark at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
Through two rounds, Goosen leads the field in driving distance (297.8 yards), is tied for third in Greens In Regulation (69.4%) and also is tied for third in putts per round (27.0).
Now Goosen sits in a position that he has yet to face on the PGA TOUR Champions, leading an event after 36 holes and looking to earn his first victory. His previous best finish was a tie for second place at the American Family Insurance Championship, losing in the second hole of a playoff to Jerry Kelly. Stricker was also in that playoff.
Stricker started the round with the lead but was unable to place shots in position to score low. He hit 8 of 14 fairways on the round and 11 of 18 greens.
“(I) Never really got anything going at all,” said Stricker. “Drove it in the rough quite a few times, missed quite a few greens, and just when I did hit it on the green, it really wasn’t that close to have legitimate birdie putts at it. It’s just a good golf course. If you’re a little off off the tee, you pay the price. I hung in there nicely today and that’s what’s nice. We’re only halfway through and three shots back, I’m in a good spot.”
Just the day prior, Stricker was the one who seemed to be on a roll and not even Mother Nature could stop him, an opening-hole bogey seemed to set a neutral tone which the Wisconsin native could not shake.
“(Goosen) didn’t miss any shots,” Stricker said. “He drove it in the fairway long and straight, hit great irons, made a lot of nice putts. It looked effortless for him today. He played great, and that’s what’s out there on this course. If you can put it in play off the tee and with some length like he has, and soft conditions, you can make some birdies, but it can also jump up and get you, too.”
While Goosen and Stricker were paired together, Jobe teed off nearly two-and-a-half hours earlier and birdied the opening two holes.
Jobe had a longer day having to play 28 holes Friday but used a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th as he was finishing his first round to keep the rest of his day moving in the right direction.
“On this golf course with it being wet and long, it was a long day, but I think that’s what happens on these days, you get momentum,” Jobe said. “If it gets going well, it goes real well, and if it gets going bad, it’s a struggle. I got fortunate in the morning that I was able to get it in. (I) shot 1-under on my last 10 holes and came out today, started off quick, made a couple birdies and that kind of gives you a little cushion to get going. It was a fun day.”
Jobe does have a little bit of history in Ohio placing runner-up to Stricker at the 2011 Memorial Tournament.
Though this trio is atop the leaderboard, each has already gone low once and understands that if fairways are missed or if the ball is not placed in the proper positions, then high scores may come into play.
“This course (Firestone Country Club), that’s great you played good for two days, but there’s so much golf to be played, I think, for everyone right now,” said Jobe. “It’s that kind of a golf course. You get a little bit off and 75, 76, 77’s right there. It’s the honest truth. It’s just a great golf course. It exposes your weaknesses, that’s what it good course is supposed to do.”
Goosen has held a 36-hole lead 11 times, two of which turned into victories including the 2001 U.S. Open… Goosen and Stricker each are looking to become the 10th player in Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship history to win the event in their debuts, most recently it was done in 2012 by Joe Daley at Fox Chapel Golf Club… The 36-hole leader/co-leader has won seven of the last 12 senior majors though the last one came at the 2017 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship which was won by Bernhard Langer… If Jay Haas (T4) wins this weekend, he would become the oldest winner in PGA TOUR Champions history surpassing Scott Hoch (63 years, 5 months, 4 days) who won the 2019 Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge… The par-4 13th hole played toughest on the day with just two birdies recorded and a score to par of 4.434… Glen Day recorded a hole in one on the par-3 fifth hole hitting a 5-iron 186 yards… Tommy Armour III withdrew Friday with a neck injury.